AJHL Weekend Preview – January 9-11, 2015

A few players are going to be packing their suitcases and saying goodbye to their current team this weekend, as the Alberta Junior Hockey League's trade deadline is Saturday night at 10 p.m., and a few teams look to be in the mix to be making some moves to shore up a playoff run, or build for the future.

And one team in particular is in the situation where they could go either way, despite the fact they are one of the top teams in the league. The Lloydminster Bobcats are second place in the North Division, and undoubtedly should be buyers at the deadline, looking to surpass Spruce Grove for top spot. But the Bobcats are in the unique position of future builders as well, as the hosts of the 2016 RBC Cup are guaranteed a shot at a national championship, so the build is on for a team next year.

So the question in the Border City is being asked, can the Bobcats win this season, or do they trade veterans and roster players, who will not return next year, for talent that can help them against Canada's best hockey teams next year? Prior to Saturday's deadline, the Bobcats will get one last look at how they stack up against the power house of the AJHL, as the Spruce Grove Saints travel to Lloydminster for a Friday night showdown.

The Saints are on a seven game winning streak and own the top two goalies in the league. The Saints could be buyers as well this weekend, as their top 10 national ranking in the CJHL puts them in good contention to make a run at an RBC Cup this year.

Lloydminster has a free day Saturday to make moves before heading to Drumheller to face the Dragons on Sunday, while the Saints travel to Sherwood Park.

Another team who you have to expect will be heavy buyers this season are the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The North Division's third place team is this year's host of the Western Canada Cup, and is already one step further to a national championship. Fort McMurray won the bid to host the event, and as hosts, get to compete in the five team tournament, where the winner and runner-up head to the RBC Cup in Manitoba.

The Oil Barons should be one of the days biggest movers, as the winner of the Gas Drive Cup will join them for the Western Canada Cup, along with some powerhouse teams from the other three provinces. A point behind the Bobcats, Fort McMurray is home for the trade deadline, as Friday night they host the Whitecourt Wolverines, while Saturday they welcome Drayton Valley. While inter-league trading is rare, it does offer the Oil Barons a chance to look at the sixth- and seventh-place teams in their own division, and maybe see a potential deal in the works.

The highest ranked AJHL team in the CJHL rankings, Camrose, are on top of the South Division, and rank second across Canada in the Dec. 22 rankings. Only the 2015 RB Cup host Portage Terriers were ranked higher, so what the Kodiaks do at the deadline could be to bolster their lineup in preparation for a long run to a national championship. They still need to win the Gas Drive Cup and Western CanadaCup in order to get there, and with stiff competition in the South, some scoring help could be on the way to the Kodiaks, who have allowed the least amount of goals in the AJHL.

With back-to-back games against the Okotoks Oilers on Friday and Saturday, the Kodiaks could potential begin to pull away with the first round playoff bye in the South, while the Oilers will look to snap a four game losing streak and try and secure a home advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Buyers or Sellers?
Sherwood Park (20-19-4) are in fourth place in the North Division, eight points out of the top three and four points up on fifth. The Crusaders may elect to stay the course over the deadline, or add a scorer of defencemen to give them a push to stay in front of fifth. With a top three looking out of reach due to the movement in front of them that should be made, Sherwood Park is looking at a first round playoff matchup on the road. They play Olds on Friday before welcoming Spruce Grove on Sunday.

The Brooks Bandits (30-10-1) have a nine point lead on Okotoks for second in the South Division, and still can catch Camrose, who are only five points in front, for first. As the league's second highest scoring team, and third highest goal differential, Brooks can leave their roster the way it is and make a run for a South Division title. They won't have a look at their team before the deadline as they head to Olds for a Sunday afternoon tilt.

Speaking of Olds (18-15-6), they host Sheerwood Park on Friday and Brooks on Sunday. They enter the deadline nine points behind Drumheller in the South for fourth spot, but have a five point lead on Canmore for fifth. All might be quiet for the Grizzlys come Saturday night, despite a current two game losing skid.

The Canmore Eagles (18-21-1) host the Calgary Canucks (14-21-5) Saturday and travel to Calgary to play the Mustangs (12-28-3) on Sunday. All three teams hold the bottom spots in the South Division, with the Eagles and Canucks holding the final two playoff spots. The Canucks are in Drumheller on Friday before their Saturday night game, and could close the gap between sixth and seventh. The Mustangs, however, only have the Sunday game, and could find themselves as far out as 10 points by the end of the weekend for the final playoff spot. Depending if they think they could make a run, they should be selling come this weekend.